Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Ship's Name, Badge, Motto & Pennant Number

The Ship's Badge & Royal Naval Heraldry

This section is in large part sourced from “The A to Z of Royal Naval Ships’ Badges 1919-1980 Volumes 1 and 2” by B.J.Wilkinson, T.P.Stopford and T.Taylor.

It should firstly be noted that the correct Naval definition of this device is a Badge, not a Crest. Having said that the Naval Crown which surmounts the badge is in itself properly described as a Crest. The whole image, however, reverts to being called a Badge.

The authors of the above work stated that a Royal Navy ship’s badge is the equivalent to the Regimental Colours of the British Army, heraldry therefore plays a critical role. The introduction of badges into the Royal Navy corresponds with the replacement during the mid 19th century of wooden sailing ships by iron and steel ships powered with steam. It is apparent that the disappearance of individual figureheads with the demise of sailing ships created the need for some other form of individualism in the iron and steel ships which replaced them.

Charles Boutell defined it thus in “English Heraldry” 1867, “A Badge, like a Coat of Arms, is an armorial ensign that is complete in itself, and possesses a definite signification of its own”.
The early history of the introduction of Ships Badges to the fleet is too complex to numerate here and indeed is outside of the scope of the objectives of this website, but, can broadly be described as follows.

Prior to the introduction of badges, the figurehead on wooden warships was the individual symbol of a man-of-war, and an expression of the personality of the ship, with regard to her name. The last Royal Navy warship to carry a figurehead was HMS Odin which was decommissioned as late as 1920. The first to wear a badge was HMS Tower, a modified “R” Class destroyer whose Commanding Officer designate, Lieut. Harold Joyce D.S.C., R.N., had one privately designed in 1917 by a retired Sub Lieutenant Charles ffoulkes R.N.V.R. (Note 1) who had an intense interest in militaria with a sound knowledge of Mediaeval History and was subsequently appointed Master of the Tower Armouries. This started a trend for other Commanding Officers to follow suit using ffoulkes who in turn involved the Admiralty Librarian in his research for each ship’s badge.

 Figurehead of the 3rd HMS Ajax (1809 – 1864)

Eventually the Admiralty decided to formalise what was becoming a muddled situation by granting each ship its own badge and promulgated this decision in a 19th December 1918 “Admiralty Monthly Fleet Order” followed on 15th January 1919 by “Admiralty Weekly Order 178 – War Honours, Badges and Mottoes for H.M. Ships”. The later Order under Part 6 stated ”In future the Badge and Motto will be combined with the War (now Battle) Honours Scroll for display on the Quarter Deck, the whole design thus becoming a naval counterpart of the military Regimental Colour” 

This Order was to allow designs to be prepared, if suitable, from any existing badge and it was always clearly understood that a ship’s Officers could submit designs and suggestions for approval.

Charles ffoulkes, who was at that time heavily involved in setting up the new Imperial War Museum as its Curator, was given an Honorary Commission in the Royal Marines with the rank of Major on 2 August 1918 to enable him to deal with more authority appertaining to the work of the museum when dealing with the Admiralty. He was then appointed as the first Admiralty Adviser on Heraldry; surprisingly he requested that he be allowed to carry out his work on badges and mottoes on a part time basis free of payment except for reimbursement for costs of any materials, an arrangement which was agreed.

Figurehead of the 3rd
HMS Ajax (1809 – 1864)
Major ffoulkes commenced the first batch of designs in March 1919 and, after approval by the Ships Badges Committee, a design or Sealed Pattern as it became known could not be altered in any way without the specific permission of the Committee. In his first 12 months ffoulkes completed 229 badge designs, an outstanding output for one who was not only working gratis but also on a part time basis!

It should be noted that the Badge is surmounted, “ensigned” in Heraldic terms, by The Naval Crown. ffoulkes was not responsible for this portion of the design as since 1919 this had been, and still is, an Admiralty requirement for all ships Badges and that is covered in the following “The Naval Crown” section.

As for the ship’s motto, numerous translations from the Latin exist simply because they can be interpreted in several ways and many variations are found in the literature referring to this ship’s motto. Here we have followed closely the Herald’s original interpretation but we differ in one respect replacing “Himself” with “Ajax”. (Refer comment under “Motto” below)

Sealed Pattern designed by Major Charles ffoulkes Royal Marines
  as approved by the Admiralty on 2nd September 1920 for the 1912 Battleship Ajax.

Ship’s Badge for the Cruiser Ajax of 1934

Herald (Designer):

Major Charles ffoulkes R.M.
Designed in 1920. ffoulkes used a portion of the pre-1918 badge which had been used by the 1912 Battleship Ajax.


2nd September 1920

Heraldic Blazon:

Upon a field of black, a Corinthian helmet gold embossed with a serpent and ram’s head gold, crested red.

Derivation of ship’s name:

The name Ajax is taken from Greek Mythology. Ajax was the son of Telamon, King of Cyprus and a legendary hero of Ancient Greece. To distinguish him from the other Ajax who was the son of Oileus, he was called “Great” or “Telahuge and strong in statmonian Ajax”. He was attributed to being "slow in speed but huge and strong in stature".  In Homer’s “Iliad” he is described as of great stature and colossal frame,econd only to Achilles in strength and bravery. There is no doubt that the crew of the cruiser Ajax would not have so subjugated themselves to the crew of their sister ship Achilles!

The approved Admiralty Sealed Pattern states the derivation as “A hero in Greek mythology. King of Salamis, second only in greatness to Achilles. The serpent refers to Ajax’s birthplace, Salamis, and the ram’s head to the time he slew a herd of sheep and goats thinking they were the enemy”.

Derivation of Badge:

The badge shows a Classical Greek warrior’s helmet. This helmet is loosely based on several different ancient types which have been amalgamated into one design.

The serpent on the helmet represents Ajax’s birthplace, the Greek island of Salamis, known as the Serpent Isle.

The ram’s head on the helmet emanates from the mythology of when Ajax was struck mad and killed some sheep mistaking them for his enemies. The helmet faces to the left, Dexter in heraldic terms, and is not specified in the Blazon (i.e. description of a coat of arms in proper heraldic terms) in accordance with the heraldic rule that that is the normal direction unless specified otherwise.

Derivation of Motto:

The motto alludes to the legend of Ajax engaging Hector of the Trojans in single combat. Neither of them being able to triumph, they sued for peace, exchanged gifts and parted as friends.


NEC QUISQUAM NISI AJAX. (None But Ajax Can Overcome Ajax)

In considering the derivation of the motto, the Herald’s original interpretation in translating it from the Latin usually considers an allusion either to the name, or the meaning of the name, in this case the name being Ajax, without either diminishing or eliminating the allusion. Thus the derivation of the name is fundamental (Refer to above ”Derivation of Motto”). Any mis-translation or re-translation opens the possibility of lessening or removing that allusion. Certainly this issue occurs even in modern languages, as an example our Foundation Editor had experience of this with translations between Mandarin and English.

So we have used the Herald’s motto with the translation quoted by Wilkinson, Stopford & Taylor, “None But Himself Can Overcome Ajax”, with the transposition of ‘Ajax’ for ‘Himself’ for two basic reasons:
  1. In modern English, ships are referred to either as ‘She’ or ‘Her’, therefore, ‘Himself’ conflicts with this idiom of modern English while not influencing the Herald's allusion.
  2. This transposed translation of the motto appears to be more generally accepted.


 Badge Heritage & Frame:

The Badge has been held by only four ships previously named Ajax -
  1. The 1912 Battleship, sold in 1926. Circular Frame, designed 1920. (Refer Note 2a below).
  2. The 1934 Cruiser, broken up 1949. Changed to Pentagonal Frame 15th October 1932. (Refer Note 2b & 3 below).
  3. The 1962 Frigate, broken up 1988. Changed to Circular Frame February 1971. (Refer Note 3 below).
  4. The 1956 ex Admiralty Barge 851(F). Named Ajax in 1987, used by HMS Raleigh for seamanship training. Sold in 2008. Circular Frame. (Refer Note 3).


Badge Colours:

This is a more confusing area than Frames with continuous changes to the design parameters since the original 1919 Admiralty Fleet Order when the colours to be used were to be in accordance with a palette of colours. Each colour was specified by a unique code number developed specifically for this purpose by His Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) which in turn were based upon the manufacturer’s, Winsor & Newton’s, colour charts.

While there were initially certain heraldic conventions to be observed the Badge colour situation has been even further confounded by two factors:-
  1. Firstly the personal preferences of whichever Admiralty Advisor on Heraldry was involved, Those used by ffoulkes differed when compared to those of his successors such as those by Sir Arthur Cochrane (Note 4) and different again by Sir Walter Verco.
  2. Secondly there were also time periods of purely Admiralty and latterly Ministry of Defence (Navy) Ships Badges Committee decisions that dictated the background colours to the ships names were to be in accordance with specific colours for a certain type of ship. For example blue for battleships, or other periods where a common colour such as black was to be used for all ship types.

  1. Note that his surname commences with a lower case ”f” which is the manner in which he always named himself. ffoulkes had resigned his commission on 7 March 1916 to enable himself to devote more time to being Curator of the Imperial War Museum.
  2. From the outset of the Admiralty’s 15th January 1919 Order it was decided that different shape badge frames should be used for different types of warships and that these would be: a. Circular – For capital ships, Battleships and Battle Cruisers; b. Pentagonal – For Cruisers; c. Shield – For Destroyers; d. Diamond – For Auxiliary Cruisers, all other types of warships and shore establishments. It should be noted that as each ship’s badge was designed, the frame used was in accordance with this order. As the first badge designed for an Ajax was for use with the Battleship of 1912-1926 a circular frame was used, hence that shown here in this page as the approved design. So for the Cruiser Ajax 1934-1949 the badge automatically received a pentagonal frame. The next Ajax, the1962-1988 Frigate became a circular frame because of the 1973 Ministry of Defence order (see Note 3 below). There was, however, still the occasional curious frame choice anomaly with the 1929 B- type 6 x8” Cruiser Exeter being a prime example. ffoulkes signed off her Badge design using the Diamond (square) on 20 August 1928 with Admiralty approval signed off 3 September 1928. When the ship was commissioned it was with her having the correct pentagonal framed Badge, somehow the error had been corrected.
  3. There is evidence that from the 1960’s the Circular Frame came back into general usage across all ship types with some exceptions hence why probably the 1962-1988 Frigate Ajax had a circular frame badge from her launch date. In 1973 the Ministry of Defence formalised this by announcing that henceforth all Royal Naval ships (including submarines) would have Circular Frame badges. These changes probably lead to the 1934-1949 Cruiser being frequently incorrectly shown as having had a Circular badge.
  4. Sir Arthur Cochrane, who was Clarenceux King of Arms at the London based College of Arms, succeeded ffoulkes in 1934 as Adviser on Naval Heraldry. Since then the position has always been held by an officer of the College of Arms.
  5. My commentary does not apply to the badges for ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary where differing rules have from time to time been applied and whose ships have no bearing on the content of this website.
  6. For the student of Admiralty Badge Heraldry an excellent primer would be Volumes 1 and 2 of ‘The A to Z of Royal Naval Ships’ Badges 1919 – 1989’ with emphasise on Volume 2. (Refer Bibliography). The intent of the authors was that this was to be a 20 volume work but only two were ever published. One of the authors, T P Stopford, did continue the work alone by later publishing in CD format, with the full approval of the UK Ministry of Defence, the ‘Admiralty Badges Encyclopaedia’ covering almost 1,900 of all types of Royal Naval Ships, shore establishments and Fleet Air Arm squadrons. (Refer Bibliography). Other works by other authors have more recently been published.

The Naval Crown

The Naval Crown is an ancient emblem, a somewhat similar design composed of the beaks and sterns of galleys having been in use by the Romans. Modified to represent the sterns and sails of a man-of-war, it has appeared in heraldry throughout Europe, and was often granted as a crest-coronet or charge to naval officers of distinction, of whom Nelson is the most obvious example in England. The earliest official association of the Naval Crown with the Royal Navy may have been its inclusion in the arms of Greenwich Hospital. Certainly by the beginning of the twentieth century it was in use in a variety of contexts, and was regularly incorporated into the stonework of Admiralty buildings.

A standard pattern of the design was adopted by the Admiralty in 1903, drawn up by Everard Green, who then held the position of Rouge Dragon at the College of Arms. In 1918, a slightly different version was included as part of the special uniform of the Mercantile Marine, by agreement between the Admiralty and the Board of Trade that this should not involve its severance from its Naval associations. The official badges which came into use for warships from 1919 onwards have always been ensigned by the Naval Crown, although of a slightly different design to the 1903 version, and it is this which is now generally recognised as the standard version for most purposes. A further revision was produced in 1922 specifically for use on buildings, but never became widely adopted in other contexts. The unofficial but widespread recognition of the Naval Crown as the badge of the Royal Navy had been formalised by 1949, when the following statement was made in B.R. 1796, The Seaman's Manual of Ceremonial, "The Badge of the Royal Navy is the Naval Crown which consists of a circlet surmounted by four sterns of men of war, each with three poop lanterns, and four square sails each spread on a mast and yard, fully fitted and sheeted home; the ships and sails being positioned alternately. This badge or the Royal Crown is often displayed on the trucks of the Ensign and Jack Staffs."
The Royal Navy Logo, 2014

When depicted as part of a ship's badge, the Naval Crown is often left uncoloured or simply shaded to indicate its form. However, it is conceived as a crown made throughout of gold, the circlet being set with gems. When shown in colour, it is therefore never correct to show the sails and pennants as white or of any colour other than gold; although this mistake is frequently made, even on the screen badges of HM ships. The central jewel in the circlet is a ruby, which is flanked by emeralds and then by sapphires, with a pair of pearls between each pair of jewels.

Use of the Naval Crown has been somewhat eclipsed in recent years by the adoption of a logo incorporating the White Ensign above the words 'Royal Navy', but it nevertheless remains the official badge of the Royal Navy, an integral part of every ships Badge, and is employed in other widespread uses.


The Ship's Penant Number

The ship’s Pennant Number assigned to the cruiser her was 22 which later in her life became C22.
More details on this subject will shortly anchor here.